Newsletter #101

DRAKENEWS #101: January 2, 2018

Dear People,

My plaque for the Hawkeye Distinguished Veteran Award came. I’m starting out with this because I’m extremely proud of it.

Moving on: I don’t normally talk about my health because it’s normally fine, and indeed it’s fine now. 2017 had some problems, though. Now that the year and the problems are (seem to be) over, I’ll mention some of them. (I’m still uncomfortable talking about my health. Because I know I caused concern to some of those who know me, I figure I should.)

I’m inclined to think that it all stems from me and the ladder taking a 12-foot fall back in February. There were no serious direct effects from that (I’ve still got a bone bruise from where the ladder landed on my right leg, but this is no big deal). I think the general shakeup was a lot more serious than I allowed myself to realize at the time, however.

(I’ve got a lot of experience with kidding myself that I’m all right. I told everybody for the first five years after I got back to the World that I was fine after Nam. It was about 25 years, not until after I wrote Redliners, before that was more or less true.)

A month or two after the fall, I sprained my right knee pretty badly. I was stepping from one curb to the other and my foot turned. I then got tendonitis in that leg and it was a good six months before I was really over that. It hurt to do anything, including to walk and to ride a motorcycle. A dancer friend taught me stretches, and another friend turned me on to arnica–a homeopathic remedy which shouldn’t do anything. In fact it helped me a lot. Still, for the middle part of the year I was generally in pain.

Then in October I had a sudden weakness in my left leg. It was just the leg, not my whole side, so I figured it was a pinched nerve. This wasn’t a lot of fun, particularly on the bike, but it was getting better so I figured screw it, there’s nothing a doctor can do so why bother?

The problem with that plan is that I went to two conventions while I was still unsteady and I know this bothered some people at them. If you were one of those people, I regret causing you concern. I wasn’t ignoring the problem: I just believed that it was taking care of itself.

Most Americans are more interventionist about their health than I am, so I brushed away suggestions that I should see somebody. (Some of the suggestions were more strident than others.) At WFC a friend who isn’t interventionist took me aside and told me I ought to see a doc. (Incidentally, he started out by emphasizing that he didn’t want to harm our friendship–since he correctly assumed that I’m not thrilled by folks deciding that my health is their business.)

So I found a doctor; I hadn’t been to anybody in five or more years. After a full workup the nurse practitioner didn’t find anything wrong and basically agreed with me that it was probably a pinched nerve. When the receptionist learned it had been five-plus years since I’d seen a doctor, she commented that I was in good health. I said that was because whenever possible I avoided the medical profession, which is true; but I’ll admit that I felt better to have had a professional confirm my diagnosis that there was nothing to worry about. And I’m now back to what was normal during most of my life but hasn’t been for much of the past year.

I take my good health for granted: I eat properly and get plenty of exercise, so why shouldn’t I be healthy? The answer to that is that I’m 72. The nurse practitioner said that she’d have guessed 60, but I’m not–and eventually everything wears out. Myself included. But not yet.

In work news, I’ve got 68K in draft of The Storm, a sequel to The Spark. (It involves the same milieu, at any rate.) It’s going along all right.

And I’ve just read the proofs of Though Hell Should Bar the Way, the next RCN space opera, due out from Baen in April, 2018. (The electronic ARC is already out.) It’s a good, exciting adventure and a change of pace–though not nearly as different as The Spark was.

Speaking of The Spark, I discussed it on The State of Things, the noon show on WUNC-FM (the flagship NPR station in NC). The background to that is more interesting than the fact of the interview.

One of the show’s producers contacted me through my website one Monday, saying that they wanted me to come in to discuss my book on Tuesday. My first question was ‘Which Tuesday?’ and my second was would it be necessary for me to go in (the studio is in the middle of Durham; I’m thirty-odd miles away) or could we do it by phone?

No, they wanted interviewees in the studio because it works better, but Tuesday was already full. She had a couple slots open next week. Did I want one of them?

Well, not much, to be honest. I’ve got PTSD and prefer to stay home and work. Still, I figured somebody at Baen Books had set the thing up, and I’ve always tried to support publishers who are trying to sell my books. I was surprised because Toni knows how I feel about public appearances, but not everybody in the shop does.

My wife, Jo, said she’d drive me there. I wasn’t going to motor over to downtown Durham on my bike, nervous even before I started looking for a studio in the middle of a large complex and not visible from the road. I therefore agreed.

This is when it got interesting. The show is a big deal among people (not just writers) promoting themselves and their causes. I’ve been on it before but that was through the Tor publicity department. I knew that the show doesn’t go out beating the bushes to find guests–and the producer’s attitude made it clear that they were doing me a great favor by having me on their show. (She was never impolite, but she was very much in charge; it would be done her way.)

Then the producer and I talked the day before the interview and she realized for the first time that I hadn’t begged to be on the show; indeed, I didn’t really want to be on because of my problems with travel. At that point she offered to do it by phone after all. I told her that I’d made arrangements; that my problems weren’t crippling, just uncomfortable.

It turned out that a local fan had run into the host, Frank Stasio, at a party and had given him some sort of printout on The Spark. The host had come in the next morning and handed the printout to a producer, telling her to book me… which she had done.

I think it was really a jolt to her to realize that I was perfectly willing to walk away from the business if she made it too hard for me. She’s a nice person, but she was used to dealing with beggars. I was never that, and at my current age I have even less reason to be than when I was younger and hungrier.

The interview went well. Frank is great at his job, and my professionalism overcame my discomfort. The producer told me I was a natural; Frank said I should do it for a living. I told both that I looked forward to being in the middle of my 23 acres in the country, working with my dog beside me.

The radio business and the veteran award have gotten me to thinking about status. I’m a writer because that’s what I do, and I’m a veteran because that’s something I did. A number of people–a lot of people–seem to regard each of those things as a status.

My dad was an electrician; I’m a writer. Nobody brags at parties that he’s an electrician. Often they do brag that they’re writers. (This is even more common on social media.) They’ve got a right to do that: there’s no licensing exam. I’m sure they do write; they sometimes imply that they’re doing the same thing I do, writing books for a living; but there’s no law against inflating your résumé.

There’s a similar cachet to being a Nam vet now, which certainly wasn’t the case in the ’70s and ’80s. That goes to the extent that a man like Senator Blumenthal, who went to a great deal of effort to avoid service in Viet Nam (ask me about the Six and Six program and I’ll explain), can not only imply to veterans’ groups that he was In Country, he can get (according to NPR) vanity license plates reading SAIGON. That’s legal too.

My physical discomfort over the past year didn’t make me stupid (I’ve just read proofs of the book I wrote then), but I’m afraid it did make me snappish. I repeatedly found myself getting bent out of shape about phonies claiming the status that I’d bought at the cost of a lot of work (or in the case of Nam, problems that I’ll probably have for the rest of my life).

I’m going to stop doing that, now that I’m healthy again. Yes, there are phonies out there, but it doesn’t hurt me.

I didn’t go to Nam for the status: I went because they sent me, very much against my will. The fact that somebody like Blumenthal will lie to gain the status just proves that I’m less likely to get more of the shit people in the SF field were slinging at Nam vets in past years.

I don’t write for the status: I’m a writer. If people feel good about their friends on Facebook telling them how wonderful their writing is, it doesn’t hurt me. I’m still a writer in my terms.

Now, I can still think Blumenthal is scum. I can still laugh at wannabes who act as though they’ve made it as writers. But I don’t have to get upset about it.

So long as I stick to my own business, I’ll be better off–and better company as well. Folks can claim any damned status they please without me getting pissed.

At any rate, that’s what I’m working toward.

Happy 2018, everybody!

–Dave Drake

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